Independent Financial Marketing Group, the third-largest distributor of investment products through banks, is venturing outside the bank channel for the first time.

It has agreed to provide variable-rate, indexed and fixed annuities to Quick & Reilly, the New York-based discount brokerage firm. Quick & Reilly has a nationwide network of 115 branches and more than a million clients.

"This is a natural extension for us," said Denis Kaplan, chief executive officer of Independent Financial, New York.

Independent Financial, which last year sold $1.8 billion of annuities and mutual funds through banks, expects to announce another deal with a nonbank broker within a month or two, he said.

Kenneth Kehrer, an insurance industry consultant in Princeton, N.J., said it's not surprising that Independent Financial is looking to take some of its eggs out of the bank basket.

"Companies like Independent Financial have looked at the future, and the future isn't robust," he said, "Their core competence is helping banks sell fixed annuities, and the fixed annuity market in banks has been flat since 1993."

In addition, banks, especially the larger ones, have been cutting out the distribution middleman to work directly with insurers. This saves them money and gives them more control. And they have been pressuring distributors to take smaller commissions, said Mr. Kehrer.

"What Independent Financial appears to be saying, is, 'Well, let's look at who else sells annuities and see if we can help them do it better,'" said Mr. Kehrer.

Mr. Kaplan said the bank business remains robust. In fact, he said, bank sales jumped $300 million last year, from $1.5 billion in 1995. The company should post total sales of $2.4 billion this year, he said.

Paul Saitta, vice president of national sales for Quick & Reilly, which is owned by Liberty Financial Companies, said the broker has been offering annuities from its Florida offices for two years.

"We thought we'd take it to the next level and test some major metropolitan areas," he said.

The annuities will initially be offered in 15 states, including New York, Florida, and California. The companies plan to make them available nationwide in coming months.

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